by Randy Pierce:
We accomplished Liberty on 9/11/2010 with an impact I will not likely forget. The impressive experience also included a shocking realization, to me, which is a part of this day’s discovery.
There was plenty of doubt about whether we could achieve Liberty’s summit in the time constraints we set and the physical constraints of my hiking. I am well aware that my personal drive should always be tempered with consideration for the toll upon my hiking team. This hike was important, and I wanted us to undertake it with as much proper preparation for success and open minds to the possibility of having set the bar too high.
We met at the trailhead for 5:45 AM and were hiking in the dark by 5:54 AM, though headlamps helped the team on this initial easy stretch. We made steady and impressive progress, which our Spot technology revealed to the growing number of folks who watch our hikes. Many remarked on the beauty of the trail and the surrounding forest, though I admit to being more focused on the drive due to time pressure I had placed on myself. Quinn was sharp and enthusiastic, and the only debate on the trail was when to switch Quinn’s to his boots – there is a tradeoff in that timing which is important to him and to us.
We hit Liberty Springs earlier than anticipated, which meant success seemed likely and ahead of schedule. During our half-hour lunch and rest at the spring, we considered delaying there longer so as not to be exposed too long on the summit. Deciding to take nothing for granted, we forged further over the most difficult section of our ascent. The summit is a rocky pyramid thrust upward above the forest, and it grants the most astounding views yet experienced on any of our hikes. The wonder of the Pemigewasset Wilderness to the east is overwhelming while the Lafayette range, notch, and cliffs of Cannon lend an otherworld quality to the peak. This would be enough for any day, but today there was so much more, as our American flag soon adorned the Liberty summit! A surprising number of hikers reached this peak, each with a slightly different reason, but all seemingly bonded in spirit with the meaning of this 9/11 memorial. An impromptu singing of our national anthem was moving, as were the cheers at each raising of the flag on the other 4000+ foot peaks. There were roughly 32 peaks visible from our perch and there was a swelling of unity and freedom, which I still feel stirring within me from those moments. I didn’t want the experience to end though we did have to start our difficult descent, knowing we still were likely to finish after dark.
It is amazing how different a trail can seem going down than up – particularly a trail with the many steps of Liberty. The time pressure was heavy upon me again, and I went back to the focus I’d chosen on the way up the peak. This was precisely the type of down in which the work Quinn and I do is most difficult. While our work can excel upwards through rough terrain, down is far more demanding on me and more worrisome for me. Quinn cannot lead me down large drops, but must simply show me the drop and let me step ahead on my own. It is slow, demanding, and as I realized more clearly, not the optimum solution. We were managing it, but more slowly and less ideally than I might have with the right human guide. Quinn represents liberty and freedom for me, as our teamwork feels so truly a part of me. Choosing another option always feels like I’m giving away more than I would get, but I could not deny that the best choice down the tough trail was not one with Quinn and me working as a team.
I chose to let Kyle guide me, my hand on his pack. We had the advantage of his height, towering over Quinn, to give me more information about the trail as we descened. We were quicker than anticipated and in some ways safer – though there was some communication development that affected this. My footing was a little extra challenge, but the result was a faster speed for the rough stretch, until we reached the portion where Quinn’s work would again be ideal. It was liberating to know I was choosing the best means for the benefit of the team, and not holding to the Quinn teamwork on principle. This takes nothing away from Quinn’s work, though he certainly worries about someone else guiding me. Like the time pressure impact I chose to accept in the ascent, clinging to our teamwork when it wasn’t ideal was a chain I had to release. We will be more efficient in the future for this learning, and our accomplishments the greater for it. The day was a tremendous success. We did finish after dark and very tired but having accomplished something very powerful. I will have a lot more liberty in many ways having been a part of the 9/11 Liberty summit of 2010.